Skinny Office Decorating with Big Flair

By Debbie Kuehne

Most large law firms design their offices to suit the tastes of high-paying clients. This usually means safe, barely there colors and impressive, although impersonal, environments. Cost is a routine budget consideration and rarely causes acid reflux.

Smaller law practices similarly must create a professional appearance, but the price tag for establishing an environment implying competency and success may need to fit a lean piggy bank. How can a small firm compete? There is good news: What may seem odd in the large law office can appear unique and reassuring in the workplace of a few good men and women.

Three keys to successful small office decorating are color, creativity, and confidence. Less space and fewer people offer a distinct advantage when it comes to establishing professionalism with a splash of personality. Getting the job done for less opens the door to novel ideas. Below are a few practical tips.

• Allow for a multitude of counselors, but place one confident person with demonstrated good taste in charge of decision making. This is hard because we all tend to think that we have the best taste, but you’ve got to find a way to do this—decoration by committee seldom works well. If you can’t get past this step, forget it. Call a decorator.

• Decide on a theme. Light, bright colors are excellent for creating a welcoming environment. Keep the color scheme consistent throughout the main areas, such as the entrance, conference room, and client waiting room. The “before” color scheme in our office was “death by gray”; the new, soft, butter color theme brightens everyone’s attitude.

• An individual office may be a great opportunity to display more daring. Consider the practice specialty and personality of the person who works in the office and the message you want to give clients. We chose a bold, deep red for one young attorney who conjures up an image of an energetic bullfighter. We balanced the boldness by getting rid of big bulky furniture and making everything look more lean. Another office (used by the “decorator”) is playful and somewhat edgy. There are nouveau track lights right next to a plain black ceiling fan, a Peanuts poster encouraging us to “Think Big,” and a French country love seat. Not everyone could get away with this, but her forte is melding cottage warmth with contemporary elegance.

• If you have a nearby university, consider hiring art majors for weekend painting. This goes for walls and old office furniture. Our young painter suggested recycling our old, shiny gold cabinet knobs by painting them with new, low-luster metallic paint complimentary to our wall color. The subtle difference is huge.

• Conference room portraits can be expensive and a bit old-school. (In some offices, you can’t tell whether the attorneys depicted are alive or the pictures are “in memoriam.”) Our attorneys chose a reasonably priced professional photography business package. The service included all pictures on a CD-ROM with copyright. Conservative but stylish attire with a single theme replaced traditional coat and tie. We purchased eye-catching frames with matting right off the shelf at one of the craft chain stores.

• Do not buy cheap, unattractive art just because you cannot afford oil paintings. Look online for interesting posters that reflect the spirit and goals of your law practice. Better yet, adopt a mission statement or famous quote and present a letter-size version to a copy shop. Conversion to an impressive poster can be yours at a nominal cost. Metal-craft is another art form that can serve as a sophisticated but budget-friendly alternative.

• Mirrors create space. We used them in the foyer, where too much light was absorbed by a dark wallpaper that we couldn’t afford to replace. We also used a mirror in a small client waiting room, making it much more open and full of light.

• There is no law that says filing cabinets must be dull beige to provide efficient storage. White or wall-matching epoxy and enamel paints are plentiful. Pull-out drawers can be wallpapered or decorated by the little people in your life. Including the kids in decorating can create a comfortable, personal touch enjoyed by staff and clients.

• Consider a small decorating allowance for employees, with ground rules that they must coordinate purchases with the design czar. Everyone enjoys personal expression.

• Don’t be afraid to make mistakes, ’cause you will. You can change them next weekend. Just try to avoid expensive mistakes.

• You have never had more options for highly successful office decorating. No matter the style you choose, keep it friendly and professional.

Debbie Kuehne is the risk manager at Kuehne, Foote & Gaudin, APLC, in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. She may be reached at 225/767-7186 or .

Copyright 2008

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